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Forest Grove police chief considers wide range of ideas as tagging surges

The citizen who contacted Cornelius police Tuesday night to report three males tagging a blue apartment building did exactly what Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz hopes her graffiti task force will do: observe and report.

At least 15 to 20 people have called to sign up for Schutz’s proposed task force, which she hopes to create by early April.

A spate of graffiti in Forest Grove in January sparked heightened attention to the problem. Schutz was already planning to launch the task force, which she plans to call the “Friends and Neighbors Coalition,” when taggers struck again this past weekend, leaving purple scrawls along a few blocks of 19th Avenue, strikingly close to the police station.

Schutz vows to follow through with full prosecution of any taggers, who are usually charged with criminal mischief, she said.

Expecting many of the culprits to be juveniles, Schutz wants to saddle them with graffiti cleanup. She also wants to talk to their parents and deliver school presentations on the topic, perhaps even require them to participate in a mentoring program.

“I personally love that approach,” said Nathan Seable, a member of Forest Grove’s Public Safety Advisory Committee, when Schutz described some of her ideas last week. “It’s more of a holistic approach.”

Schutz wonders whether the city could steer the taggers in a constructive direction by giving them a place for legal graffiti. There would be a danger of gang graffiti taking over, she said, but “there is artistic talent in some of these kids.”

City regulations currently require property owners to clean off any graffiti within 10 days, but “even 10 days is too long,” said Schutz, who would like to see it removed immediately, both to protect the city’s image and to deny taggers publicity.

About five years ago, a volunteer group formed to paint over graffiti when the victims were unable to do so, said Forest Grove City Councilor Tom Johnston. He doesn’t know what happened to that group.

It would have been helpful to elderly or low-income victims, he said, or to recurring victims, such as the woman whose fence was attacked so frequently it was thick with paintovers.

Meanwhile, Schutz encourages all citizens to be on the alert for graffiti in progress, to call police immediately if they spot anything and not to worry if it turns out to be something else, as was the case in Cornelius, where the “three male taggers” turned out to be the owners of the complex doing some work.

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